Elizabeth Ohene writes: A few unpleasant truths

Elizabeth Ohene

There are two subjects guaranteed to make headlines: children attending classes in unsuitable structures, and old players of Black Stars who have fallen on hard times.

We are in the season for both stories. The rains are here and the deficit in our infrastructure for basic schools is always sadly exposed at this time, so there will be stories about schools under leaking sheds.

It is time for the Africa Cup of Nations and the Black Stars have gathered, so there will be stories about the last time we won that competition and those who played in those days.

I am keenly interested in both subjects — Black Stars and school buildings — and many people know this and, therefore, make sure I never miss any headline on the state of classrooms or the Black Stars.

My love affair with the Black Stars goes back a very long way, having first watched them as a 15-year-old and I never missed an opportunity to watch them. Between September 1967 and January 1982, I worked at what is now called the Graphic Communications Group Ltd and I followed at close quarters all the drama that surrounded the Black Stars.

I saw how sports administrators and governments dealt with the players. I watched their matches and I reported on some of them. I saw how the players were doted upon by officials and ordinary Ghanaians.

I doubt if there was any Black Star player who ever paid for a bottle of beer or fruit juice or food when he entered a bar or restaurant in this country. I can testify that even I once bought beer for two of the players in Accra. Both certainly had much, much more money than I did, but that is how things were at the time. We worshipped them. They were stars, they did what stars of those times did, they behaved like stars and nobody begrudged them.

They were not treated any worse off than their contemporaries in other parts of the world.

In 2006 when we finally made it to the World Cup in Germany, I was a Minister of State and I paid for my own flight and match tickets, hotel and transportation around Germany to watch and cheer the Black Stars. When the Black Stars went to South Africa in 2010, I bought tickets to all their group stage matches. I know many, many Ghanaians who followed the Black Stars with similar or even more adoration.

When the Brazil 2014 Black Star debacle came, my devastation was total. Then I realised I was behaving like all those people who see the past as rosy and would make us believe that horrible things only happen in the present.

How could I forget that haggling over money has always been part of Black Stars culture? How could I forget that back in 1970, a certain widely celebrated Osei Kofi, now better known as Rev. Osei Kofi, led a boycott of Black Stars of the AFCON competition in Sudan? In today’s world, it probably would not have been handled any different from Brazil 2014.

The myth

This myth has persisted that the Black Stars of old sacrificed and loved Ghana more than the rest of us and played for no recompense. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I don’t know why the sports journalists are reluctant to state this.

Obviously, modern players earn far, far more than players of old did, but that is a worldwide phenomenon. It is also true that some promises made in the heat of the moment were not always kept but I had hoped those matters were resolved by former President John Dramani Mahama’s intervention when he gave money to all the surviving former Black Star players “for all the unfulfilled promises made by all former governments.”

In August 2014, the then Minister of Youth and Sports, Mahama Ayariga, presented a cheque of GH¢1.7 million to the surviving members of the Black Stars that won the 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982 Africa Cup of Nations.

Now I see a 5.58” video of an event in a church with three former Black Star players — Rev. Osei Kofi, John Naawu and Rev. Kofi Pare — circulating on social media. In this video, a certain Prophet Emmanuel Badu Kobi rants about former Black Stars players being ignored and claims they were given kettles as prizes after winning the cup.

I do not begrudge the GH¢20,000 cheque that this so-called prophet said he was giving the players and what other members of the congregation would also give. But I find it outrageous that these three former players, two of whom are now reverend ministers, would stand in front of a congregation and be part of the vitriol and lies that came from this prophet.

If the former players were not minded to interrupt their very public benefactor, and thus jeopardise the monies coming their way in the church, they have had a lot of time since then to set the records straight. I am disappointed they have chosen not to do so.

SOS for classrooms

Journalists are often enlisted by communities to help publicise the desperate state of some basic schools. The idea is that the publicity will shame the authorities into doing something to ease the situation.

Since there are so many of these schools that require urgent attention, this strategy often works and the school that is featured on television or in the newspapers gets built.

I am afraid some of these campaigns are misplaced.

I have never quite understood how we came by the practice in this modern world that a family or two go and start a settlement without any reference to any authority.

It is often a dispute or the search for more fertile land, but it is a popular practice in my part of the country. Quite regularly a new Somebodykope is born right before our very eyes, without any consideration about how they get water or other necessities, never mind schools for the children.

Doubtless, this is how many of our current towns and villages started life. But surely, in this 21st century, people should not be allowed to start new settlements without reference to the planning authorities and then try to blackmail everybody for “amenities”.

I wrote recently about the illegal felling of Rosewood in the forest reserve in Abutia. There are two settler communities that persist in staying in the reserve in spite of many attempts to get them out. Twenty years ago, a concerted attempt was made to move them, the school was closed, many of them moved, a few stayed and have multiplied. They are now complaining about not having electricity or water and I saw on television a story about how bad their school was.

Rather than join in a campaign to build schools for some of these communities, we should be brave and face the truth that many of these settlements are not viable and should shut down.

I know a lot of retired teachers who are living in penury. The blackmail for former Black Stars players is quite enough.

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